TBY talks to Fernando Vives, Executive President of Garrigues, on business law, internationalization, and plans for 2020.

How have the main activities of the firm evolved over the years?

Our office has always been dedicated to business law, and we have always had a strong international presence. Garrigues was the first Spanish firm in the 1960s that had an office in New York. We have departments for tax, commercial, labor, procedural, and public law all focused on the market. This is evidenced by the fact that we are the leading labor and tax law firm in Spain. On the other hand, as part of our international strategy, we have always had our own offices in the countries where we operate so that we can tell our clients that when they need services in Colombia, the service they will receive will be exactly the same as in Barcelona, Bilbao, and Lima. All of these elements led us to become the largest non-English-run European law firm, with an increasingly important presence outside Spain.

Is it your people what differentiates Garrigues from other offices?

This office has the best people, the best teams. What distinguishes us is that we are able to approach without difficulty any operation of any industrial sector with a group of people who have wide-ranging knowledge.

What is your expansion strategy, and the main challenges of internationalization?

When I proposed a change of strategy, until then we had always worked on the basis of agreements with local law firms, such as strong partnerships with offices in Latin America. But if I need the “Garrigues standards" anywhere in the world, that requires the standardization of quality, service, and response to the client. There are many offices that say they have a presence in 30 countries, but in reality what they have is a franchise. The difference for us is that our offices operate exactly the same in Lima as it does in Barcelona.

You send lawyers trained in Spain to your other offices?

I cannot litigate before a Colombian court, so what we have done during the last five years is recruit firms or individual lawyers from other countries, the best lawyers we could find. Right now, we have 28 partners and more than 100 professionals in Latin America, specifically in five countries. Hence, they have the fundamentals of Garrigues and they have been adapting to local conditions.

How does Garrigues stay at the forefront of technological innovations?

It starts with having the best people to be at the forefront of technological developments at all times; this will allow a law firm to adapt to the changes that are taking place. For me, the important thing is not artificial intelligence but human intelligence. So, as long as we have the best professionals, we will be at the forefront of change. The subject of digitalization has two aspects. The first is to be able to join our clients in their digitalization processes, to know how these impact our clients' businesses. Then there is the digitalization of the law firm, how you modernize the service you provide. We are increasing training for all our people in regard to the industries and in the disruptive factors of digitalization. We have staff dedicated to startups, assuming the restrictions that exist in terms of fees, and service provision, for example. We are also on the path of the digital transformation of our traditional customers. You have to optimize productivity, because that will allow a better service to the client and that allows you to retain that client and attract new ones.

Do you think the legal industry tends towards the in-house legal team?

The in-house legal team will always exist. It is necessary. They do a good job, but saying that external offices will not exist is as if saying that there will not be external consultants.

What are the main challenges and opportunities for the legal sector here in Spain for the coming years?

The legal sector in Spain has very solid foundations, and the quality of law firms and lawyers is remarkable, if we compare it with other countries. The Brexit issue is, for example, a great challenge for the European legal sector. If Brexit takes place many things will have to be adjusted accordingly.

What are the objectives of the office for 2019 and 2020?

All our objectives are related to the two pivots of this office: our clients and our people. This includes promoting the interests of our customers, increasing our clientele, achieving profitable development and efficient service provision. Everything else is second to these priorities, digitalization, growth, international development. Our ultimate goal is to optimize the service we offer our clients.